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What’s Causing Your Nighttime Nasal Congestion?

Getting a good night of sleep is vital for your overall health and well-being. In fact, according to the American Sleep Association, sleep is essential for survival. Though the specific function of sleep isn’t completely understood, what is known is that sleep is restorative, both for the body and the mind. For instance, while you’re sleeping, tissues repair themselves, growth hormones are released, and protein is synthesized by cells. Furthermore, the brain may categorize and store memories while you’re sleeping.

In other words, sleep is pretty essential, and you don’t need to look at in-depth, well-documented research studies to tell you that; you feel it yourself. You know that there’s a huge difference between the way you feel and function when you have a good night of sleep compared to when you toss and turn all night long. For example, when you’re well-rested, you’re quick on your feet, more cognitively aware, are more chipper, and just feel better overall. Conversely, when you have a poor night of sleep, you feel groggy, grumpy, slow-to-start, and just blah. Experts recommend getting up to 8 hours of solid sleep a night, but there are a lot of things that can prevent you from achieving that recommendation; namely, a stuffy nose. There’s nothing more frustrating than experiencing congestion at night. It prevents you from breathing through your nose (the most effective way to breathe), can spark snoring, dry your mouth out, and make you constantly get up and down so that you can blow your nose. In other words, nighttime nasal congestion can make it virtually impossible to get a good night of sleep, leaving you feeling utterly exhausted in the morning and dragging throughout your entire day.

If your nose seems to get stuffy as soon as you hit the pillow, and instead of getting shut-eye, you’re tossing and turning all night long, there’s no doubt you’re looking for a solution. What’s causing your nighttime nasal congestion and what can you do to combat it? Read on to find out some of the potential factors that could be contributing to your nighttime stopped-up nose and some tips that you can use to breathe freely so that you can get the sleep that you so desperately need.

What Causes Nighttime Nasal Congestion in Adults?

Most people believe that a stuffy nose is caused by excess mucus production in the nasal cavity, which blocks the nasal passages. While that is certainly one of the causes of nasal congestion, it isn’t the reason why the nose can get stopped-up at night. In fact, a more common cause of nighttime nasal congestion is swelling and/or inflamed blood vessels within the nasal passages, and several of the factors that can contribute to that swelling and/or inflammation tends to worsen at night. Examples of some of the potential causes of nighttime nasal congestion include:

  • Anatomy. Gravity helps mucus drain properly through the nasal passages. During the day, when you’re standing or sitting upright, the mucus that your body creates is always draining, thanks to gravity. It travels from the nose and sinuses, down the back of the throat, and you swallow it (it might sound gross, but it’s true, and usually, you don’t even notice it). When you’re reclining or lying flat on your back at night when you’re sleeping, it becomes harder for your body to use gravity to properly drain that mucus. As a result, instead of draining, instead of draining, the mucus backs up and pools in your nose, and as such, your nose can end up feeling stuffy. If you notice that your nose feels clearer and is easier to breathe through within a few hours after waking in the morning, anatomy is most likely the cause of your nighttime nasal congestion.
  • Changes in blood flow. Your blood pressure changes when you lie on your back or on your side; for example, there might be an increase in your blood flow in the upper regions of your body, including the head and nasal passages. That increase flow of blood can inflame the vessels within your nose and nasal passages, which can make you feel congested. If your pregnant, you may also notice that your nose feels more congested, specifically at night, which is caused by increased blood flow, too.
  • Alternate nasal congestion. If you notice that one of your nostrils feels clear and the other feels clogged when you lie down at night, alternate side nasal congestion is likely the cause. This is the result of the nasal cycle, a natural process that occurs when the turbinate, a structure that lines the sinus wall, swells in one nostril and not the other. The turbinate serves an important function, as it generates mucus that entraps bacteria, dirt, and debris that you breathe.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Also simply referred to as acid reflux, GERD is a condition in which stomach acid flows up into the esophagus, the tube that joins together your stomach and your mouth. The esophageal sphincter, a valve that sits between the stomach and the esophagus, is supposed to remain closed; however, when it doesn’t, reflux occurs. A burning sensation, known as heartburn, is the most common side effect of GERD; however, it isn’t the only side effect. Nasal congestion is also quite common among people who suffer from acid reflux. That’s because upon lying down, the esophageal sphincter is less likely to remain closed, and hence, stomach acid is more likely to push its way up from the stomach and through the esophagus. For this reason, the side effects that are associated with GERD, including a burning sensation in the chest, coughing, a sore throat, wheezing, and postnasal drip, tend to worsen at night. Nasal congestion can get worse at night, as the back of the throat is connected to the nasal passages. Research has indicated that there are definite links that connect GERD, stuffy noses, and chronic sinusitis.
  • Allergies. If you suffer from allergies, that could be the cause of the nasal congestion that you’re experiencing at night. This is particularly true if there are high levels of airborne pollutants that you are allergic to in your bedroom. For example, if you’re allergic to animal dander or dust mites, and your pet sleeps in your bedroom or dust tends to buildup in your bedroom, and your congestion worsens at night, heightened exposure to these allergens could certainly be the cause.

What Causes Nighttime Nasal Congestion in Children and Babies?

If your child or baby experiences frequent stuffiness at bedtime or naptime, the cause is likely related to the size of their nasal passages. The passageways that run through the sinuses and nose are narrower in babies and children; hence why they tend to be more susceptible to nasal congestion when they are sleeping. Their narrower nasal passageways can spark excess mucus production or inflammation. Unlike adults, young children and babies are unable to blow their noses, thus they are unable to alleviate the congestion they experience, which can impact their ability to get a good night of sleep.

Sleep disruption isn’t the only issue that can arise as a result of narrowed nasal passages and stuffy noses in children and babies; their ears can be negatively impacted, too. The ears are connected to the nasal passages, and when mucus can’t drain down the throat, it can drain into the ears of small children and infants, decreasing their hearing and increasing their risk of ear infections.

It can be hard to narrow down the causes of nighttime nasal congestion in children and babies, as they are unable to explain the symptoms they are experiencing. With that said, pediatricians state that some of the most common causes of nighttime stuffiness among children and infants, in addition to their narrower nasal passageways, include the following:

  • Sinus infections
  • Cold or flu
  • Allergies
  • Non-allergic rhinopathy

The sudden onset of nasal congestion in young children can, believe it or not, be the result of a foreign object obstructing the nose. If your child has a stuffy nose that seems to have come on out of the blue, and it appears to be confined to just one nostril, check to see if a foreign object is lodged in his or her nose. Kids are curious and the like to explore their bodies, and while it might sound silly to an adult, little ones have certainly been known to shove objects up their noses.

How to Combat Nighttime Nasal Congestion

Whether it’s yourself or your child, if a nighttime stuffy nose is impacting the ability to get a good night of sleep, there’s no doubt that you’re seeking a solution. Fortunately, you or your child don’t have to be resigned to dealing with sleepless nights, as there are several things that can be done to try and eradicate the problem. The following are some tips that can be used to help you or a loved one breathe easier and get more restful sleep.

Tips for Adults

Some tips that adults can use to alleviate their nighttime nasal stuffiness include the following:

  • Adjusting pillows in a way that the keep the head elevated. For example, you could use more than one pillow or you could give a plusher pillow a try.
  • Give a humidifier a try. A humidifier will add moisture to their air, which will help to prevent your nasal cavities from drying out, and thus, prevent your nose from becoming stuffy.
  • Use a nasal wash, such as a neti pot or a saline nasal spray, before going to bed. Doing so will help to clear out excess mucus buildup.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Doing so will help to think out the mucus, which will make it drain through your nasal passageways a lot easier.
  • Try using an air purifier; particularly if you suffer from allergies. An air purifier will trap airborne pollutants in your bedroom, which can help to reduce the risk of becoming stuffy at night.

Tips for Children

For children and infants who experience nighttime nasal congestion, pediatricians recommend the following:

  • Try to elevate the upper part of the mattress with a pillow or another object. It’s important to note that the object SHOULD NOT be placed on top of the mattress, but rather underneath the mattress, particularly for infants and newborns, as the pillow could potentially smother the child.
  • Try using a cool-mist vaporizer. A vaporizer will add moisture to the air, which will help to prevent the nasal passages from drying out. It’s important to stress that a cool-mist vaporizer should only be used, not a warm-mist, as warm-mist vaporizers can become very hot and could potentially harm your child.
  • Make sure your child is drinking plenty of water and clear, sugar-free drinks throughout the day.
  • Try washing out their nasal passages with a saline nasal spray.
  • Use a bulb syringe to suction out excess mucus from the nasal passageways of toddlers and infants.

Schedule Regular Mold Inspections

In addition to the above-mentioned tips, you should also consider having professional mold inspections performed on a regular basis. Mold spores are known to cause adverse health effects. Not only are they a common allergen, but they can also impact individuals who have no known allergies. Breathing in the spores can spark nasal congestion, and while an air purifier can help to remove some mold spores, the best way to combat airborne mold is be identifying its presence and eradicating it. Often mold growth goes unnoticed. A reputable professional, such as the team of highly trained, experienced, and licensed technicians at Mold Inspection and Testing, will use the most state-of-the-art technologies and proven techniques and strategies to determine if mold is presence in your home. If so, we’ll offer our honest input that you can use to eliminate the problem.

As the saying goes, the best offense is a good defense. Exposure to indoor mold growth is a common cause of nighttime nasal congestion, and by having the pros at MI&T conduct assessments of your home on a regular basis, you can tackle the problem, even if you don’t visibly see it.